Brown mushrooms — especially portabellas and baby portabellas — continue to gain ground on traditional white button mushrooms and actually outsell the whites in certain categories, grower-shippers say.

Consumers are taking an interest in brown mushrooms, primarily because of their texture, said Kevin Donovan, sales manager for Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square, Pa.

“It’s a firmer product,” he said.

Retailers traditionally set out large displays of white mushrooms for food-oriented holidays, like Thanksgiving, said Gary Schroeder, president of Kennett Square, Pa.-based Oakshire Mushroom Farm, which does business as Dole Mushrooms.

Today, however, brown mushrooms also are making a mark.

In stores where retailers built equal displays of baby portabellas and white mushrooms, the baby portabellas had a spike in sales just as big as the whites, he said.

“The baby bellas actually surpassed the whites this year with some customers,” he said. “That was unheard of before.”

This shows that consumers “want to continue to trade up to that better flavor and stronger texture of the baby portabella mushrooms, if they’re given a choice,” he said.

Schroeder suggests that retailers allow room for both varieties to grow.

Monterey Mushrooms Inc., Watsonville, Calif., has focused on its 100% daily-value vitamin D mushrooms, which “continue to stir more consumer interest and grow sales,” said vice president Joe Caldwell.

“The volume of high-vitamin-D mushrooms sold continues to increase substantially,” he said, offering more choices for health-conscious consumers.

The exotic mushroom segment is gaining in importance, said Jane Rhyno, director of sales and marketing for Highline Mushrooms, Leamington, Ontario

“With the changing demographics and the influence of the ethnic population, we see retailers and foodservice looking to add more exotics to their lineups,” she said. “Items like king oyster, maitake and beech are being included in more and more retailers’ shelves.”

But Paul Frederic, senior vice president of sales and marketing for To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pa., said sales of some specialty mushrooms, like shiitake and oyster varieties, have been a bit stilted as a result of the economic downturn.

“Consumers are more concerned about price,” he said, “so they might want to steer way from the expensive specialties.”

Internationally, there are many varieties that outsell white mushrooms, said Bill Litvin, vice president, sales and national account manager for Giorgio Foods Inc., Temple, Pa.

“This trend is heading to the U.S., and in the years ahead we will see increased popularity of specialty mushrooms,” he said.

The industry has made some advances with the maitake variety, said Fred Recchiuti, general manager at Basciani Foods Inc., Avondale.

“Maitakes used to be only available seasonally from the wild,” he said, making food safety controls difficult. But that has changed.

“As an industry, we’ve been able to develop techniques to grow them year-round in sanitary conditions,” he said. “Chefs now have the power, for the first time in culinary history, to use maitakes on flagship menu items year-round.”

Only small quantities of maitakes are available, Schroeder said.

They aren’t big sellers, and there is so much shrink that they’re typically sold only by specialty stores.

“We’re not seeing a lot of new varieties coming out,” Schroeder said.

Instead, most of the advances in the category likely will be in new packaging or new features, like adding vitamin D to existing varieties, he said.